It's the vintage heart of this city that provides by far the richest concentration of fascinating sights. Here, narrow-laned old quarters and handsome plazas filled with regal statues are bordered by wide avenues and modern skyscrapers. World-class art galleries and museums vie for attention with secretive convents and tiny 17th-century churches. The Plaza Mayor, the city's photogenic main plaza, was once the stage for the Inquisition's horrific autos de fe; today it is filled with strolling families, tourists, lively cafes, and souvenir shops.
Yet hedonism has always played a vital part in the city's lifestyle, and in a spontaneous nonstop way that leaves you breathless. It is said that Madrid has more bars and cafes than Belgium or Holland. And the bars here not only open early but also close late (or never shut at all if you include the after-hours bars), and weekend dawn traffic jams of cars and night buses block the city thoroughfares as revelers weave their way to, from, or between their favorite spots. Madrileños also love to eat well -- be it at a favorite neighborhood tasca or a fabled culinary mecca. Restaurants and chefs serving cuisine from recipes that haven't changed for generations compete for the citizens' affections with innovative newcomers experimenting with fusion and molecular gastronomy. The city's shoppers have their pick from ultrachic stores and boutiques selling the latest in international fashion to street markets where an elusive antique is bargained for a song.
You name it, Madrid has it.
In spite of the fact that the city has six million inhabitants, traffic congestion as bad as in any major European city, and 2 main summer months that are as hot as you know where, Madrid is a remarkably easy and, in many corners, even relaxing city to visit and get around in.
For a start, there are no messy customs requirements like visas to arrange before you go; and once you've arrived and settled in, there are plenty of well-informed tourist offices in both the city and its surrounding province to give you the lowdown on what to do and where to go. Transport by metro (subway) and bus is extremely efficient and frequent, with an increasing number of facilities for travelers with disabilities.
The currency is the euro (€), common now throughout practically the entire European continent -- with a few stubborn exceptions, like Norway -- and it's easy to combine visits to other countries, such as England and France, without having to worry about changing currency.
On Time in Spain -- In Spain, a time change occurs the first weekend of spring. Check your watch. Many unsuspecting visitors have arrived at the airport too late and missed their planes.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.